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somerville-01
Image via Jumpship

Somerville Review: Family is Hope

Is there life outside of Earth?
 What was that on the TV? 
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You awake to the sound of your son crying after falling asleep with your family watching your favourite evening shows. There are strange noises and lights flickering outside. A loud crashing sound can be heard surrounding the house, the ground shaking from the impact. You investigate outside, a foreign object has crash landed on your front yard. Overhead spaceships and a gigantic vertical ship are in the night sky. Armageddon has arrived. This is Somerville.

Jumpship’s debut game Somerville, released November 15th, 2022, is a sci-fi adventure with a mind-bending conclusion. Somerville follows an unnamed family, separated at the climax of an alien invasion. Play as the father of the house, searching for his wife and son. Wander into the cold, quiet city of Somerville, Massachusetts, alongside your loyal companion. Witness the aftermath of the invasion and find your family.

Biggest Takeaways

Pros

  • Incredible attention to detail.
  • Great sound design.
  • Interesting take on a sci-fi adventure game (unique conclusion).
  • Fantastic art design.
  • No in-game hand holding (no objectives, you have to figure out what to do).

Cons

  • Very small interaction box (had to stand in a very specific spot in order to interact with objects).
  • Bugs in the Beta version.
  • Repetitive gameplay in some Chapters.

Final Rating: 7/10

The Attention to Detail

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Image via Jumpship

Somerville is filled with fantastic little details that bring this game to life. The gameplay choice at the start of the game to play as the family toddler, exploring the house is a brilliant change in what we would normally see in a Sci-fi game. This gameplay choice is similar to what we would see in Films and TV Shows. Like Elliott in E.T, Newt in Aliens or Mike in Stranger Things. The only comparison I can make for playing as a child in a setting before a crisis is Sarah in The Last of Us.

The Family

Regardless, it is the toddler’s characteristics that truly make this part. The walk cycle is so realistic and brilliant, it is a lovely touch that makes him feel more lifelike. The realism made me feel rather hesitant to play as a toddler wandering around the family home in the dark. It was a great choice for the opening act of the game as it aligns us to this part of the family. Instead of simply playing as a father looking for his wife and child, we experience the world through the eyes of a child, filled with naivety and innocence as he climbs onto the kitchen counter to explore the world outside.

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Image via Jumpship

For a game with no dialogue lines, the language of love is prevalent throughout. The entire premise of the game is to find your wife and child in the midst of an alien invasion. Being guided by pure instinct and gut feeling. The added touch of the husband and wife holding hands and embracing puts the love between the pair at the forefront of the game. The hand holding is used again as a means of using your powers, demonstrating the father’s need for his wife and child’s support.

Whilst I would have loved more interactions between our protagonist and the dog, I enjoyed the way they walked alongside each other. He watches us as we walk, side by side. Truly demonstrating the loyalty of the man’s best friend. In a time of hopelessness, it was nice to focus on this touch as a sweet moment of a man and his dog. The dog following us wherever we go and finding us no matter how far we stray away from him. The added sound design of the scared whimpers and the action of hiding when the aliens are around are more great touches of realism.

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Image via Jumpship

The Aliens

Not only does the game portray the innocence of the family but also of the alien mechanical balls that help you on your journey. They remind me of the Soot Sprites in Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away. Unlike the other aliens, these have no sound design. There is nothing menacing about them, and their behaviour makes them helpful little followers. The sound design of the hostile aliens is fantastic too. The droning mechanical, unearthly groans of the alien machinery. Housed by the ships, making you wonder if these machines are gigantic otherworldly beings and not merely spaceships controlled by pilots. With its eye opening to a purple light, taking all biological life.

The final detail that I enjoyed was the overall sound design. Music is strategically placed to emphasis the emotion of our protagonist and the importance of a particular scene. There are no dialogue lines between characters. Instead, communication is portrayed through actions and body language.

Portrayal of Humanity and Extraterrestrial Life

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Image via Jumpship

We have been taught that in a time like this, most of civilisation would be screaming with terror for the incomprehensible arrival of alien life. Almost always portrayed in Films, Books and Video Games, is our species losing our humanity in times of extreme crisis. Our self-destructing nature of stupid choices and the repeated decision to condemn others in order to survive just a little longer in the chaos. But this is not the case in Somerville.

Setting

Inside Somerville, Massachusetts where the invasion either began or was the final city to be attacked, the aftermath of the invasion is calm and peaceful. At the beginning of the game, we do hear split-second audio of the alien lifeform on the television. Perhaps this is implying that the aliens had already began their invasion on a much larger scale than what we initially anticipated. It is likely that the calmness I felt wandering through Somerville is the result of my own nihilistic and cynical opinions on humanity. But the city of Somerville is serene, with beautiful landscapes of the countryside. It is until we enter the heart of the city where we see the real image of our lost civilisation.

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Image via Jumpship

Streets bare of humanity, with cars lining the roads, the drivers plucked straight from the driver seat. How long were we unconscious for? The slow walking cycle of our protagonist gives the viewer time to take in the surroundings. Some survivors are inside the city center and those you run into attempt to flee the city but quickly meet their demise.

Those who do help you along the way are humans with futuristic and inhuman abilities. They are the reason for our protagonist’s powers. The reason we survived so long in the darkness. As you wander through the empty city, you wonder did any of humanity survive? Are you the last to survive? A man gifted with powers that he did not ask for. It is hard to feel like the luckiest man alive when your wife and son are nowhere to be found. In the surreal calmness of an empty world, transformed into hopelessness when the mechanical beasts come to hunt.

A Complex Sci-Fi Story in the Underbelly of Somerville

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Image via Jumpship

The story of Somerville starts out simple, with a family torn apart when aliens invade the city in Massachusetts. Similar to the story of Silent Hill 1, our sole goal is to locate and be with our family in this terrifying crisis. But as time goes on, you begin to question the invasion and the alien race. Who are the humans that are trying to put a stop to the invasion? Why are the aliens invading? Does it end at Somerville?

The final chapters of the game take a turn towards the abstract. With artistic and surreal moments similar to that of Interstellar’s ending. Somerville’s ending is definitely up for interpretation and is one that had me scratching my head when I first played. Nevertheless, Somerville is definitely a unique experience and one that has me itching to see other people’s interpretations of the complex conclusion.

Gameplay

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Image via Jumpship

The gameplay mechanics are easy-to-use, and you can figure out the majority of the puzzle/situation solutions you find yourself in fairly quickly. What I appreciated most about this game is that there is absolutely no hand holding. Most AAA games as of recent love to tell the players how to play and what needs doing in every step of the game’s experience.

Some sections of the game felt a little repetitive at times. This is most likely due to the fact that the game has very limited controls. You only really have the ability to do two things throughout the entire game. For a game with a short run time, I would have preferred having different gameplay mechanics in order to progress through the story. However, at the same time, I acknowledge that because of this shortness I should not expect too much variety in the gameplay. Although, the gameplay was lacking in my eyes, the narrative strengthens Somerville’s impact as a Sci-Fi Adventure game. With its pacing and storyline developing into something more than a man searching for his family.

Somerville throws you into this world, as a father and a husband, searching for his family in the midst of an alien invasion. We, like the father would have to do if this circumstance ever happened in our lifetime, would rely solely on pure animalistic instinct to guide our choices. To survive, escape the hostile environment and attempt to locate our family in a time of uncertainty and despair.

Performance Issues

The pacing of the story is great. Although, I am embarrassed to say that I did die often. I found that the controls were stiff at times and the area where the protagonist would respond to the interaction button prompt was very small. In moments of panic or being timed (such as chase and underwater sequences), I would often fail due to not clicking the interact button in the specific spot where I needed to stand.

The concerning issue of this Sci-Fi Adventure is that the Beta version is filled with bugs. However, as this is the Beta, the bugs should quickly be resolved soon after upon release, I hope. Still, for this reason, I had to let this factor into my final rating. Very often I had to either reload to the last checkpoint or restart the game because either the bumper mechanic stopped working or I was clipping out of the game, seeing the protagonist falling over and over again mid-air. There was also the issue of clipping out after a loading screen and an audio bug that was the never ending sound of wind (the sound of our character falling) in the background of the game when it should not be there.

Somerville’s storytelling is strong. It has emotion, originality and complexity in its portrayal of extraterrestrial life and humanity. But its performance truly lets it down.

Final Thoughts

Somerville is one to remember and I will return to this game and remember its story fondly as one of the great Indie Sci-Fi Adventures. Whilst the game needs a lot of polishing in regard to its performance and controls, the overall experience was good with an ending that truly strengthens the overall narrative. I am interested to see what Jumpship do next.

Related: Somerville Guide: Chapters 1-2 The House.

Author
Image of Hadley Vincent
Hadley Vincent
Hadley is a Freelance Writer for Gamer Journalist. They have been with the company since October 2022. With a BSc Honors in Psychology, Hadley focuses their creativity and passion for Video Games by primarily covering Horror, FPS, and anything with a great narrative. You will often find Hadley covering the latest indie horror games or deploying into Call of Duty's DMZ. They love a good story and one that can keep them up at night, be that for its scares or its lore.